UP!–Randolph Caldecott: The Man Behind the Medal

Ralph Caldecott-portraitBorn in Chester, England on March 22, 1846, Randolph Caldecott, the British artist and illustrator, made an indelible mark in the world of children’s book publishing during his short life, having died just shy of his 40th birthday on February 12, 1886. This is why, in 1937, at the suggestion of Frederic G. Melcher, the American Library Association established The Randolph Caldecott Medal

I’m sure that if I had properly attended art school and focused on illustration, I would’ve long ago known more about Randolph Caldecott. During my research, I discovered his artistic skills and innovation to be remarkable, especially considering the time period in which his picture books were printed. The ideal pairing of Caldecott as an illustrator, and Edmund Evans as engraver and printer, resulted in high-quality books that were—and still are—more than impressive. Caldecott’s work was so outstanding at that time, it is said that Beatrix Potter’s father purchased Caldecott originals to inspire his daughter.

Caldecott MedalCaldecott HonorThere is good reason the most famous, esteemed and coveted award for children’s picture book illustration bears the name of Randolph Caldecott. As Maurice Sendak admirably states in The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, Caldecott’s first works in illustration, rendering pictures for Mother Goose nursery rhymes in a style never having been done before, gave birth to what we know as the modern picture book.

HeyDiddleDiddle&BabyBunting-coverMost of us have clear memories from childhood of the picture books we loved, regardless of how long ago that was. A beauty of the picture book format is that it is timeless. Whether as a child, teenager or adult, regardless of our age we can enjoy picture books. It is timeless, yet again, when we as parents, relatives, friends, teachers and librarians, create new, treasured memories with and for the children in our lives. Each time we read and share these books, we continue that precious legacy.

You don’t have to be a children’s picture book author or illustrator to appreciate the value of the work of Randolph Caldecott. You only need to be a reader who appreciates the great gift of the format he essentially invented back in 1878. Thanks to his artistic talents, those of the printers who reproduced his art, and the long line of authors, illustrators and publishing houses since then, thousands of picture books have garnered the shelves of libraries, bookstores and homes. They will continue to be an enjoyed and treasured art form for generations to come.

The House That Jack Built-30%TheHouseThatJackBuilt-2

These two stunning illustrations appear in Caldecott’s


John Gilpin - center spread

This is the painting from which the artwork on the Caldecott Medal was derived. It is the double-page spread in THE DIVERTING HISTORY OF JOHN GILPIN by William Cowper

For up-to-date lists of: Caldecott Medalist and Honor Books


To learn more about this extraordinary man’s life, loves, co-creators and works, there are many books available. Here are a select few:

Ralph Caldecott Treasury-coverThe Randolph Caldecott Treasury selected and edited by Elizabeth T. Billington with an appreciation by Maurice Sendak.

In this 287-page book, you’ll not only find pages of heartfelt praise by Maurice Sendak, but a step back in time as Elizabeth T. Billington traces Caldecott’s footsteps from childhood on. This book contains photographs in which you can see the reference for much of Caldecott’s artwork, along with a vast amount of sketches, book illustrations, and fine art. These include work prior to his turning to picture book illustration through to his last sketch; it was drawn shortly before he passed away while touring America with his wife, Marian. This book is a treasury.

Randolph Caldecott-LeonardS.Marcus-coverRandolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing by Leonard S. Marcus.

This is a large book, beautifully written by Leonard S. Marcus, a children’s book historian, author and critic. It is an easy and enjoyable read filled with colorful details about a remarkably talented man. Many of the most choice illustrations dapple the pages in relatively large scale, making this a pleasure to flip through, even just to take in the art itself.


Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books-cover

Randolph Caldecott’s Picture Books reproduced from nineteenth-century copies in the Huntington collection, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Published by Huntington Library Press, this chunky book made with heavy paper stock contains 9 of Caldecott’s most popular stories, featuring crisp facsimiles of the books’ original pages.


Randolph Caldecott-LordoftheNursery-cover

Randolph Caldecott: ‘Lord of the Nursery’ by Rodney K. Engen.

As an authority on illustrators of the Victorian era, Engen has not only written about Caldecott’s life and works, but compiled a wide variety of well-known pieces with those not-so-well known. This stunning book contains many full-page replicas, not only from his book illustration, but of Caldecott’s other artwork, including rarely-seen personal correspondence often adorned with sketches, illustrations for various periodicals, and sculpture.


Randolph Caldecott Society UK

The Randolph Caldecott Society of America

28 thoughts on “UP!–Randolph Caldecott: The Man Behind the Medal

    • Why, thank you for reading 🙂 I tried to keep it as short as I could yet give some important info. I figured I’d post it now ’cause there are a lot of schools who do “mock Caldecott” awards with their students so they learn how to appreciate picture books 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you for sharing this information about Randolf Caldecott. I’m embarrassed to say that I had never even thought about the origin of the awards or for whom they were named. I need to question more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul, you’re very sweet 🙂 I know this is not really your thing, but for people interested in Kidlit, the Caldecott award is well-known. The thing is, just as I didn’t really know about the man himself before I did the research, neither do many other people. I’ll be doing at least one more, but maybe another after that, on the background of the people who’ve had awards named after them 🙂

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        • Definitely, Paul, and in the Kidlit world, he was critical as far as having his hand in children’s books as we know it. The Caldecott is a coveted award and I wanted to know why it was named after him. I’ve heard it for years, but never knew the details. Now I do and I’m glad a few other people do, too! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! Mr. Caldecott sounds like a marvelous fellow, and a very important one at that. Even if someone doesn’t like his work, they can’t say he did a lot of things for picture books. Like if someone doesn’t like the Beatles, they can’t not admit that they really advanced music.

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  3. Thank you for sharing about Mr. Caldecott. I have always wondered about the origin of the award but never researched it myself. Thanks for sharing. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so interesting, isn’t it? And I can tell you, the books I sited are excellent! He was a VERY talented man 🙂 I know I’m very grateful for what he accomplished as I think anyone who’s aware of the history can’t help but be if they love children’s picture books 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Although the name sounds familiar I am not familiar with any of his works yet, I love the art work though, in fact I love anything of that era. The first book I read at school was Each Peach Pear Plum and I bought it again recently, it still makes me happy. I need to go relive my younger days again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, the books of childhood 🙂 See, my world IS all about Kidlit, so I’m very familiar with the medal, but wasn’t with the man himself ’til I decided to do this post and the research. And I agree–don’t lose that part of your younger self. To me, the books put out for kids are the best anyway 🙂 I don’t know if it’s released in the U.K. yet, but there’s a book out that I think any adult would enjoy: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Also, which I would think they’re totally available, even through your library system, are Jon Klassen’s books: I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat. Great, dry, deadpan humor. Actually, here’s the trailer for “Sam & Dave.” The guy in the blue hat is Jon, the red hat is Mac. LOVE this!

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